There is little in the way of proper, stand-alone restaurants in Kampong Thom given it is mainly a transit hub and rural centre, but the good news is the local food stalls are excellent and most hotels and guesthouses have their own restaurant or café.
The notable exceptions to the rule are the hearty Araksa Restaurant and the wonderfully diverse American Restaurant, both of which win consistently high praise from travellers. Fine dining can be found at the Sambor Village Hotel. Average prices at Western restaurants are generally around US$2-$5 for mains, while local eateries start from just 4,000 riel up to US$4.
Around the new market area there are dozens of food stalls, which operating slowly during the day but really pick up from late afternoon when locals get peckish after their day’s toil around town.
The centre point of the city, all manner of cheap, tasty meals can be found here, including the ubiquitous spam baguettes and barbequed meat-on-a-stick, while the location is also a good spot for people-watching. Connoisseurs can find numerous varieties of grilled fresh fish, while adventure seekers can munch on deep-fried tarantula.
Western restaurants in Kampong Thom
Araksa Restaurant: Conveniently situated across from the bus station, next door to the Tourist Information office, this relatively newcomer is the other main dining option aimed at the Western traveller, with big breakfasts, pizzas, burgers, it is also one of the few to offer a decent pasta and vegetarian menu,.
Arunras Hotel: A full Western menu which is slightly more expensive than similar eateries around town due to its popularity, bus traffic and central location. All the staples, from American breakfasts to sandwiches are here, in addition to Chinese and Khmer classics, but the attraction is more the mix of people and travel gossip.
The American Restaurant: Opposite the Department of Agriculture, behind Arunras, is this beacon of western delights, which offers real Aussie beef hamburgers, homemade pizza and some of the best handmade ice-cream in Cambodia. Hugely popular with NGO workers and government officials treating Western guests, they also offer a unique specialty Khmer menu which involves ordering several hours beforehand to ensure only the freshest vegetables, fruits, fish and meats are sourced.
Khmer restaurants in Kampong Thom
Many of the best local restaurants have no name or English-speaking staff, but discovering these hidden gems is all part of the travel experience. Behind the Arunras on the market corner is one such venue, which, according to some, has the best food in the city.
Learn the phrase of what you want before you go, or just take pot luck and point anywhere on the Khmer menu. On Stung Sen Street overlooking the river there are a couple of good local options in a pleasant setting, while cheap noodle and rice shops are scattered around the bus zone.
Jamnorch Beoung: Over the bridge, carefully hidden around 500m up the NH6, is this unique Khmer BBQ restaurant. Essentially a bunch of stilted bungalows connected on top of a large lily-pond, the DIY grill features surprisingly tender meat and fresh vegetables. A buzzer is provided in case you get into trouble.
Monorom Restaurant: On the NH6, next to the Mittapheap Hotel, this place is often crowded with locals, which is always a good sign. Breakfast seems to be particularly busy – a good spot for morning coffee.
9 Makara Restaurant: One of three restaurants that sit alongside each other on the northern side of the river bridge. The 9 Makara Restaurant and Nightclub is the enclosed building in the middle, and feature a wide range of Chinese and Khmer dishes and occasional late night dancing.
Kampong Thom bars and nightlife
Just south of the city, along the NH6, there are dozens of more upscale Khmer restaurants that generally house a bar or karaoke lounge, and serve a decent quality of local specialties to mainly well-healed Phnom Penh residents. Very rarely seen Western faces are somewhat of a treat for both parties, especially if you can hold a tune and your whisky.
To get there, just look for the neon lights and ostentatious building facades that stand out garishly on the main highway. This stretch of road is known by locals as ‘restaurant row’ and most places have beer girls to serve you and the local hi-society members. Probably the best spot for late-night drinking.
When it comes to bars you can pretty much forget about it, the restaurants are where it’s at in Kampong Thom, which is most definitely not a party town. The one ‘nightclub’ in the city centre is essentially a karaoke bar upstairs at the back of the Arunras Hotel, but even this closes at 23:00, while across the river the Makara 9 Restaurant has a relatively late-opening bar that likes to call itself a nightclub. In reality, this means the establishment has uniformed waitresses pour your beer for you.